Power Foods for a Powerful School Lunch
by:Evan L. Mestman, MS, RD, CDE, CDN
There isn’t a school day that goes by that I worry about my son’s lunch. Of course, I ask myself the usual questions: Is he eating what he has in the bag? Will he trade his apple for a cookie? Will the school lunch he’s ordering once a week be nutritious? He’s a kid! He’s not a fussy eater, but there are plenty of days that he has come home with a bag full of food. I’ll ask him “what did you eat for lunch?” He always says, “nothing.” What’s a parent to do?
Plenty of Mom’s worry about what to feed their kids for lunch. They always ask me which foods are the best to pack. I believe there’s no such thing as a good or bad food. Remember, the food police aren’t arresting anyone at Ben and Jerry’s. Some foods are much more nutritious than others. The key to feeding your child well is to offer variety and make sure to include fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, 90% of Americans don’t eat the recommended five or more servings of antioxidant-rich and nutritious fruits and vegetables daily. Kids eat even less. While supplementation may guarantee you get enough Vitamin C and Beta Carotene, it‘s not a substitution for all the thousands of healthful nutrients found in fruits and vegetables that you can’t get in a pill. You want your kids to grow up healthy and strong. Here are some winners that will compliment any school lunch and help make your fruit and vegetable choices count.
Broccoli: Here’s an all American winner, as if you didn’t already know! Broccoli is chock full of vitamins, fiber, and minerals. It taste great, too. Broccoli is high is Vitamin C and carotenoids. These are antioxidants that help boost our immunity and protect our body from environmental insults like cigarette smoke and pollution. The two types of fiber in broccoli , soluble and insoluble, help lower cholesterol, fight cancer, and keep our digestive systems in tip-top shape. Broccoli also contains indoles and isothiocyantes that help decrease estrogen’s effectiveness and protects our cell’s DNA (the building blocks of genetics and reproduction). It’s also an excellent source of folic acid-a B vitamin that seem to be critical for cardiovascular health. Not bad for being green!
Kids either love it or hate it. Here are some ideas to help you kids eat more of the green stuff. Broccoli tastes best if it’s blanched first, cooked in boiling water or steamed for 3 to 4 minutes. Stop the cooking with an ice bath if you want to eat it cold. Marinate it in your favorite light Italian dressing and place it in a zip lock bag for lots of flavor. Substitute broccoli for half the cabbage in your favorite coleslaw recipe and add to a sandwich instead of lettuce and tomato. Don’t throw away the stalks.
Carrots: If this vegetable was marketed for its benefits, I bet it would sell for $20 per pound! Carrots have over 200 carotenoids, one of which is beta carotene. Scientists aren’t sure which caroteniod is responsible for protecting us from cancer. Since beta carotene provided such disappointing results in recent research, I’ll keep eating carrots and skip the beta carotene. Carrots also contain phenolic acid, a phytochemical that may reduce the risk of cancer.
A great way to get your kids to start eating carrots is top his/her favorite sandwiches with shredded carrots along with lettuce and tomato. Kids will enjoy a bag of baby carrots (they are large carrots cut into small bite-sized pieces) with some low fat dressing on the side for dipping. Even try it shredded on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich if your kids won’t eat their vegetables.
Beans: Most kids won’t eat beans, “I don’t like them.” “They taste yucky.” My son loves black beans, soybeans and chickpeas. There are so many different types of beans all with a different texture and flavor. Don’t give up on your first try. Beans are a great way to add a powerful nutritious punch to any meal. A large portion of the world population depends on beans to provide them with nutrition. People of the orient uses soybeans, Americans use peas, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries depend on chickpeas and lentils, Africans uses a combination of beans. Beans have the highest source of fiber for a whole food. They also are loaded with cancer-fighting phytochemicals like genistein and flavones. Soybeans have the most impressive list of plant chemicals to help fight, cancer, and high blood pressure, and menopausal symptoms. Add to its long list of benefits its ability to lower blood cholesterol and you have a winner. Use canned beans if you’re in a rush. Open a ca!
n of chickpeas, chop up an onion and some red pepper (if your child doesn’t like them, you can always substitute another bean and vegetable until they are happy), toss in your favorite salad dressing and let it marinate overnight. Let your child spread black beans or prepared humus (a chickpea spread) on a flour tortilla. When at home, add cheese and chopped onion and cilantro, heat it in the toaster oven or microwave and have a side of salsa with carrot sticks for a delicious and well rounded lunch.
Apricots, Melon, and Papaya: All these fruits are loaded with nutrients. They’re high in Vitamin C and mixed carotenoids, potasium and have lots of fiber. Papaya has enzymes that help digestion and break down protein. Some of these enzymes have anti-inflammatory qualities. All of these fruits are great as snack foods in a lunch bag. Whether dried or fresh, these fruits taste great solo or with other foods. Combine dried apricots and toasted almonds for a tasty snack.
Spinach: Here’s another vegetable with abundant amounts of beta carotene and potassium. Most kids say they don’t like spinach probably because it’s cooked incorrectly. Spinach tastes best if cooked when young and tender. Older spinach tends to be woody and tough. Don’t use aluminum cookware. The spinach will pick up an acidic taste and lose its beautiful green color. Don’t overcook spinach. It gets waterlogged easily and is probably the reason why many don’t like it. Use it on sandwiches with lettuce and tomato.
Herbs and Spices and Tea: Don’t to forget to spice up your kid’s life with garlic, turmeric, ginger, rosemary and green and black tea. Many parents think kids don’t like spices. It’s true their taste buds are more sensitive to hot and spicy foods. But, if you don’t introduce these flavors at an early age, your children won’t learn to like them. These additions to your children’s diet will provide antioxidants such as curcumin, lycopene, allicin, and flavonoids. They taste great and may be the hidden ingredients that provide protection from cancer, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Use lightly sweetened green tea mixed with juice for a great tasting thirst-quencher.
Next time you question whether your children’s lunch is packing enough nutrition, try these easy ways to add more fruits and vegetables. You’d be surprised how easy it is to fee your children power foods for a powerful body!
About The Author
Evan L. Mestman, MS, RD, CDE, CDN is the owner of www.roundyourplate.com, the home of the Pleasure Principle Weight Loss Plan. Lose Weight, With Pleasure!
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